By Terrell Carter
In Matthew 1:18-25, Mary is betrothed to a man named Joseph. If Mary was not already dealing with enough stress from everything that goes along with preparing for a wedding, God decided to make life even more interesting for her. One day, a representative of God appeared to her and said that she was going to have a baby. But, that child would not just be any baby. That baby would grow to become the man who would set her people free from the powers that ruled over them.
The only problem with this proclamation was that Mary was a virgin. In response to this fact, the angel said that God would create life in her through the movement of the Holy Spirit. Mary, realizing the magnitude of what she had heard, praised God and celebrated the weird and wonderful news she had received.
But Mary’s challenges were only beginning. She had to figure out how to break the news of her impending pregnancy to her family, including her father and her fiancé, Joseph. She had to convince both men that her pregnancy was not the result of an illicit affair, but was instead an act of God.
The fact that she was pregnant, and the baby was not Joseph’s, was truly a life or death matter. There were multiple punishments for adultery, and becoming pregnant by someone you were not betrothed to was a punishable offense. The most prevalent punishment was stoning the person to death.
After hearing Mary’s news, Joseph had a decision to make. He did not have to accept Mary or the baby. Instead of having her stoned, he decided to divorce Mary in a quiet way. For Joseph, the right thing, the compassionate thing, was to send Mary away so as not to embarrass her father or himself. But before Joseph can make good on this plan, he was visited by one of God’s messengers. The messenger made a pronouncement that changed Joseph’s outlook.
The angel told him that Mary would give birth to the One that Joseph and his people have been waiting for. God was going to do a remarkable thing through this child. Joseph could not turn his back on Mary or the baby because salvation for all would come through the child. God changed Joseph’s mind and told him that the right thing to do was to stay with Mary, accept the child, and raise him as his own. And the rest is history.Like Mary and Joseph, we all face challenges. Obviously, not to the magnitude that they experienced, but significant enough that they require all our mental capacity and energy and faith. We too must make decisions that are not easy. Do I forgive someone who has seriously hurt me or disappointed me? Do I trust someone who have violated that trust?
No matter the challenge, we must answer the same question that Mary and Joseph faced. Will we trust that God is present in our situation? Will we trust that whatever direction life is going in, God can salvage it and bring something marvelous from it? Are we able to have faith that the unexpected things, the things that fall outside of normal convention can sometimes serve as wonderful signs that God is at work in our lives and the world. They can serve as signs that God is doing something new and we are blessed to view that newness firsthand.
Sometimes it is hard to know what is the right thing to do when life challenges us. We are called to be in relationship with people without a written guarantee that our relationships will ever work out.
In a sense, we can say that God faced the same questions and challenges with being in relationship with us. God knew that not everyone would want to have a relationship with their creator. But, God still did the right thing. God sent the Son, to be born. And because of that, we all can have hope, no matter what life throws our way.
Terrell Carter, D.Min., is assistant professor and director of contextualized learning at Central Seminary in Shawnee, Kan., and pastor of Webster Groves Baptist Church in Webster Groves, Mo.
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